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His tears fouling the grease paint on his cheeks, he sat on the sidelines, his arm bound to his side with an extra jersey. It was not so much the pain of his collar bone lying snapped in half beneath his pads as the knowledge that he was out for the rest of the season. The season. Their chance for State, if they kept this up. Three league games and only one team had managed to even score against them. They had just broken the 4-A record by kicking a 50-yard field goal; not that they needed the points.

The week before, his brother, the quarterback/linebacker, had tackled someone head-on, and knocked himself out cold. Idiots, the coaches told the boys, tackle with your shoulders.

So he had, in the ferocious meeting of the two town loyalties, charging as was his wont full-speed into the body of another.

At least I got a touchdown in, he murmured to the boys wringing his hand. Yes, they told him, it was a great touchdown. A brother-to-brother pass in which he, the younger overshadowed near-emaciated one, caught and ran an extra 45 yards, a horde on his heels, his stride so long it looked as if he were jogging.

Well, he said, football isn’t everything. He sounded unconvinced, or maybe it was the gritting of his teeth, the forced-even tone of his voice.

His teammates murmured among themselves: we’ve got to get him another game. We’ve got to get to State. That’s five weeks away; he can heal by then, can’t he? His dad can work some magic with vitamins and electrodes.

They loved him because he was both hard as nails and frail as glass, and when he spoke, they listened. He was what they wanted to be and what they wished they saw when they looked at humanity. If he could pull through and make it back against all odds, it boded well for them.

He hasn’t slept much tonight. If there is a miracle, I too may find myself weeping, and not because I think football is terribly important. Like those boys; like anyone, I want to see the skinny kid catch the winning touchdown in the State Championship. Not just because he’s my brother. Because I think I am the skinny kid.

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